Working with the Oral Histories Present in the Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project Collection: “Always Be My Home” StoryMap

Oral histories provide us with a direct window to the past – interviews with people that provide not only historical context and information, but also personal details and stories. They show how history is not just a series of events, but the real lived experience of everyday people. Oral histories can be revelatory, sad, empowering, and even just plain funny. Giving people free reign to talk about their lives gives us the chance to examine the details – the facts that often get left behind. What I wanted to do was provide  a method for visualizing a few of the stories that were told in the oral histories that the Community-Driven Archives team of the University Libraries at UNC-Chapel Hill had the privilege of archiving throughout our time working with the Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project (EKAAMP).

Throughout my time working with the EKAAMP oral history collection, I reviewed transcripts and read through the words of Black former coal mining communities from eastern Kentucky that Dr. Karida Brown collected in collaboration with EKAAMP members. I was consistently drawn to the stories of the women. Their experiences – their drive throughout the Second Great Migration and beyond; their stories of working, having fun, falling in love – reading about the lives of these women really was breathtaking. Their lives, even down to the most mundane moments, were so rich and full of warmth. I wanted to find a way to show their experiences in historical context, to show just how far so many of these women went in their lives during a time where so many things were stacked against them. That’s how I decided to start the “Always Will Be My Home” StoryMap project.

Selecting Stories

To start this project, I selected several stories from the oral history collection. I started by narrowing down the stories just to the women in the collection. Then, after a primary review of these interview transcripts, I pulled out the transcripts of the women who had moved away from the Kentucky area at some point in their lives, whether on their own or with their families.

Since I had chosen the Second Great Migration period as the timeframe for my project – a time period following the second World War in which many African American families moved from the American South to the Northeast, Midwest, and West – I was able to further narrow down the list of women to those who had made that journey. I had a pretty short list by this time, and I selected four amazing women whose stories ranged across many experiences – moving with their family for work, moving on their own but returning to Kentucky frequently throughout their lives, reuniting with community and family who had already moved, and more.

However, after selecting these stories, I felt I had limited the field. I wanted to show that Black women during these times led rich lives, but not all rich lives had to be contextualized by a move away from the South or by Southern culture and Black Southern experiences. Ultimately, I chose to add the story of a woman who moved to St. Louis, Missouri with her husband during the industrialization period.

Of course, I still feel sad that I couldn’t include the experiences of so many other women in the collection. But the purpose of this project was to highlight a few women’s stories and show the visual storytelling possibilities that oral history collections can provide.

Using StoryMaps

I had heard of and learned how to use ArcGIS’s mapping software before, but it didn’t provide me with a way to portray the stories and visuals that I wanted to add to the oral histories I had selected. Thankfully, Kimber Thomas, Postdoctoral Fellow at the University Libraries, showed me how a tool created by ArcGIS, StoryMaps, could be used to create a flowing story post using maps that could be created quickly and easily to illustrate the journeys of the selected oral history narrators.

A map of the U.S. Northeast and part of the South reading, "Viola Brown's Journey," featuring map points in southern Virginia, eastern Kentucky, New York City, New York, and Cleveland, Ohio, with lines drawn between them to indicate movement. The point over Cleveland features a small, blurred graphic
StoryMap featuring EKAAMP oral history narrator Viola Brown’s life journey during the Second Great Migration era. Courtesy Lidia Morris

Entries can be created like the one featured above, to allow for a map to be seen alongside selected text. When a reader clicks into the map, each point in the map can have images, text, and links added in to give geographical, historical, and personal information based on each location.

Creating these maps is fairly intuitive – the tool gives you a short tutorial, and everything can be customized – from the color of the lines and pins, to the type of map itself. And StoryMaps even provides examples of other stories that have been created using the tool to give you ideas. Videos, text posts, slideshows, and images or other visualizations can also be embedded throughout the story. Of course, more detailed or complicated map visualizations created in ArcGIS can also be embedded and are even more interactive or illustrative. But the ease of using the simpler maps for this project suited me and my needs well!


Part of the experience of working on this project was research – I wanted to add historical context to many of the stories I was gathering. My sources ranged from other historical collections in libraries and universities, as well as books written about the Second Great Migration and Black communities in the United States. So many of the oral history subjects had their lives coincide with major social movements and events. Hearing about how people lived their lives during these huge events, lived them like it was just any other day, helps to contextualize life today. It’s hard to recognize in the moment, when you’re a young person going through daily life, that what you’re living through is going to change the course of history.

For example, one of the subjects, Yvonne McCaskill, marched with civil rights activist Father James Groppi, who worked to desegregate schools in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. For her, this was just an action she took as a young girl. She understood the importance of the event at the time because it was important to her and to her community – this was an event she had to join for her rights, not one she believed would become historically important. The urgency of this event in the moment was extremely personal. Seeing the personal side of history is just one of the things that working with oral history can really show people.


Though my project changed many times and went through many iterations throughout the past year, I was ultimately able to do what I set out to do – to help people see and learn about the larger context of a few of the amazing stories available in the EKAAMP oral history collection. These story maps, together, create a narrative that underscores the connection of history and humanity. They are just one way to explore how oral histories can be used to guide people through the lives of others. Oral histories don’t just share context, but also perspective, joy, and depth.

Violence, Hardship, and the Southern Response

The South has witnessed unspeakable historical violence, hardship, and unrest. Whether it is a system developed over hundreds of years or the single act of one person, Southerners have used these circumstances as fuel to protest for a better reality and a better future.

At first blush, an archive might seem like an unusual place to learn about current events. We can’t provide the latest headline, updated numbers, or 24-hour news coverage. What an archive can do, though, is help explain how we got here in the first place. It can provide context, it can set the scene, and it can fill out a timeline. It can help draw comparisons, and it can bear witness to cycles, to repetition, and to causes and their effects. It can show what has worked in the past, and what has not.

We continue, as we always have, to collect the stories of those who stand up against violence and hardship. Below are just a few of our many collections that highlight how people have confronted difficulties in the past and fought for a South they could believe in.

Continue reading “Violence, Hardship, and the Southern Response”

Midcentury Artists Communicating in Big and Small

We are a manuscript collection, meaning that much of our materials are black and white, paper and ink items: letters and ledgers, deeds and diaries, wills and writs. However, if you know where to look, you can come across many bright, bold, beautiful items.

"Jesters" by Hale Woodruff. Linocut and screenprint.
“Jesters” by Hale Woodruff. Linocut and screenprint.

Our current exhibit in the Wilson Special Collection Library’s fourth floor gallery space is Tiny Paintings: Handmade Artist Cards from the Charles Alston Collection. Charles Henry Alston (1907-1977) was an artist, educator, and arts advocate in the middle of the twentieth century, and kept up vigorous correspondence with his many friends, students, and colleagues.


This exhibit, created in concert with UNC Art Professor Dr. John P. Bowles, selects cards from the Charles Henry Alston Papers #04931. Learn about ways that artists in the 1940s-1960s used handmade greeting cards to share work with distant colleagues, to test new techniques, and to question social, political, and artistic norms.


"Merry Christmas Haiti" by unknown artist, 1949.
“Merry Christmas Haiti” by unknown artist, 1949.
"Prehistoric Images" by Hale Woodruff. Linocut.
“Prehistoric Images” by Hale Woodruff. Linocut.

Coincidentally, Alston and many of his close friends are better known for their work at the other end of the size spectrum: murals. Just across campus, the Ackland Art Museum is hosting Beyond Walls: Designs for Twentieth-Century American Murals (open through April 10th, 2016) featuring some of Alston’s large-scale mural work.

This unique opportunity to view Alston’s work – from miniature to immense – on UNC’s campus is only available until March 31st, 2016.


Tiny Paintings: Handmade Artist Cards from the Charles Alston Collection is free and open to the public during Wilson Special Collection Library’s regular business hours.

Men with Turkeys

Happy Thanksgiving from the SHC! Today we bring you a turkey themed post to celebrate the occasion.


Citation: Film Box 003, in the Otis Noel Pruitt and Calvin Shanks Photographic Collection #05463, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

To provide some context, this image was taken by Otis N. Pruitt in Columbus, Mississippi. Pruitt was a photographer who moved to Columbus to work with Henry Hoffmeister who owned a photography business there. After buying Hoffmeister’s business, Pruitt became the only photographer in Columbus. Most of the work included in this collection was done by him during 1920s through the 1950s. In the 1950s, he went into business with Calvin Shanks, who was once his photography assistant. He sold the business to Shanks in 1960.

Their photographs depict life in Mississippi: the town, its people, and local businesses.  The image in this post depicts men with turkeys, and was likely taken in the 1930s or 1940s.

Have You Heard of the Montford Point Marines?

On Saturday, August 1, 2015, I had the honor of attending a ceremony for the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to the family of Sgt. James Andrew Felton (1919-1994), a Montford Point Marine. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award bestowed by the United States Congress. The medal ceremony was held at the C.S. Brown Regional Cultural Arts Center and Museum in Winton, N.C.

Leading the proceedings was Mr. Curt A. Clarke, president of Chapter 14 of the Montford Point Marine Association. During his remarks, Mr. Clarke did an informal survey of the audience’s knowledge of the Montford Point Marines and their place in American history. He asked the attendees to raise their hands if, prior to that week, they had ever heard of the Montford Point Marines.  Surprisingly, only about 20% of the audience raised their hands. Next, Clarke asked, “Who has ever heard of the Tuskegee Airmen?” About 90% of the audience raised their hands. This represents the Montford Point Marines’ unsung legacy and it underscored the need for recognition ceremonies such as the one honoring Sgt. Felton.

The family of Sgt. James A. Felton receiving the Congressional Gold Medal from a delegation of the United States Marines and the Montford Point Marines Association, August 1, 2015.

The Montford Point Marine Association has been working since 1966 to educate the public on the history of the “Montford Pointers.” In 2011, Barack Obama signed into law the legislation that would award the Congressional Gold Medal to individual Montford Point Marines. Since then the Association has been working locally with surviving members of the Corps or with the families of deceased Montford Pointers to present medals and honor their distinguished service.

The program for the Congressional Medal Ceremony for Sgt. James A. Felton.

The Southern Historical Collection is proud to preserve the James and Annie V. Felton Papers, which includes some photographs and other documentation of Mr. Felton’s military service. Please check out the finding aid for more information about the Felton collection.

New Collection: Helen Maynor Scheirbeck Papers (#5526)


Helen Maynor Scheirbeck

We are pleased highlight one of the many new collections that became available for research this spring: the Helen Maynor Scheirbeck Papers.

These papers contain almost 20,000 items related to Helen Maynor Scheirbeck’s work as a community organizer, educator, and political scientist. She focused her career on achieving better American Indian education in the U.S., and on receiving tribe recognition for both the Lumbee tribe in North Carolina and the Menominee tribe in Wisconsin.

Our finding aid has more Scheirbeck and her many accomplishments:
The Helen Maynor Scheirbeck Papers #5526, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

J. Eugene Grigsby, Jr.: Artist and Teacher

Guest Poster: SHC Student Worker, James A. Moore (UNC Class of 2015)

We here at the Southern Historical Collection are ecstatic to announce the opening of a new art exhibition in the library at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center. The exhibit, which is entitled, Selected Works of J. Eugene Grigsby, Jr: Returning Where the Artistic Seed was Planted, commences April 1 and will be open to the public through June 30. There will also be a reception on April 1st in the Stone Center Library from 5:00-6:30 at which anyone is welcome, and no RSVP is required.

Born in Greensboro, N.C., J. Eugene Grigsby, Jr. earned his Bachelor’s Degree in art from Morehouse College in 1938. From there he went on to attain art degrees from Ohio State, New York University, Arizona State University, the American Artists School in New York City, and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Marseilles, France. Throughout this time, J. Eugene Grigsby, Jr. became the object of artistic praise and admiration, running in the same circles as the most talented African-American artists in the United States.

Aside from J. Eugene Grigsby, Jr.’s obvious passion for producing art, Grigsby also possessed a passion for teaching art. Starting in 1946, Grigsby took on the daunting task of creating an art department for the African-American students at the segregated Carver High School in Phoenix, Arizona. Once Carver closed in 1954 (due to the Brown v. Board of Education case which outlawed segregated schools) Grigsby chaired the Art Department at Phoenix Union High School until 1966, when he would move on to become a professor in the School of Art at Arizona State University and retire as a Professor Emeritus of Art Education.

To commemorate J. Eugene Grigsby, Jr.’s invaluable work as an educator, and highlight the immeasurable influence he had on all of his students, we here at the SHC have selected various materials from Grigsby’s teaching career. If you would like to learn more about the life and work of J. Eugene Grigsby, Jr., feel free to look up his collection in the SHC, check out his upcoming exhibit at the Sonja Haynes Stone center, or join us at the exhibit’s opening reception on April 1st from 5:00-6:30 in the Stone Center Library.

A final exam from an"Art Appreciation" class taught by J. Eugene Grigsby Jr., undated. J. Eugene Grigsby collection (#05295)
A final exam from an”Art Appreciation” class taught by J. Eugene Grigsby Jr., undated. J. Eugene Grigsby, Jr. collection (#05295)
Photo of Juanita Eddings, student of J. Eugene Grigsby Jr from Carver High School., showcasing a ceramic which she won an award for.
Photo of Juanita Eddings, student of J. Eugene Grigsby Jr from Carver High School., showcasing her award-winning ceramic plaque. March 1, 1953.  J. Eugene Grigsby, Jr. Collection (#05295)

SHC All-Star: John Hope Franklin

John Hope Franklin (photographed by Dan Sears) as featured in "African Americans and Segregation" portion of The Carolina Story: A Virtual Museum of University History
John Hope Franklin (photographed by Dan Sears) as featured in “African Americans and Segregation” portion of The Carolina Story: A Virtual Museum of University History

John Hope Franklin would have been 100 years old on January 2, 2015.

On this campus, we like to take a lot of pride in a well, sometimes I like to think of the curatorial work as building a well for present and future historians. The increased breadth and depth of our collecting will yield more satisfied and refreshed researchers.  I admire John Hope Franklin because he was looking into wells that did not reflect his face, on property which he was not welcome to occupy; and drew conclusions that we still rely on today. More information on the treatment of African American scholars in public archival research spaces can be found in Alex Poole’s American Archivists article, The Strange Career of Jim Crow Archives: Race, Space, and History in the mid-20th century American South.

John Hope Franklin signature in the Southern Historical Collection Registration Book (University Archives, #40052)
John Hope Franklin signature in the Southern Historical Collection Registration Book (University Archives, #40052)

Among many of Franklin’s accomplishments, including degrees from Fisk University and Harvard University, teaching at St. Augustine’s (Raleigh, NC), University of Chicago, North Carolina Central University and Duke University; as well as numerous volumes on American, Southern, and African American history; I think that his involvement with the Southern Historical Association (SHA) is one of the highlights. It boggles my mind that in 84 years since emancipation, no descendant of a slave could stand up among scholars and talk about Southern history. In 1949, Franklin accepted his colleague, C. Vann Woodward’s request to be the first African American on the program at the SHA annual meeting. In his oral history session, Franklin reflects on the group’s concerns about where he would eat and sleep as well as if he would have the gall to stand at a podium and “talk down” to the white people in the audience.

Even after the presentation went on without any problems, racist historians continued to exclude black scholars in implicit and explicit ways. As the number of brilliant yet exiled historians began to mount (Franklin, Savage, Wesley, and Bacote), SHA leadership decided to re-locate the 1953 Knoxville meeting to a place where everyone could participate. The move to integrate the SHA was swift, which made Woodward and Franklin take notice. According to Woodward biographer, John H. Roper, the subsequent conversations among the scholars led to Woodward’s premise on the escapability of Jim Crow, which led to the seminal text, Woodward’s, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, published in 1955.

John Hope Franklin, President of the Southern Historical Association, 1971 (Southern Historical Collection, #04030)
John Hope Franklin, President of the Southern Historical Association, 1971 (Southern Historical Collection, #04030)

More information on John Hope Franklin and his extraordinary career can be found in the following collections within the Southern Historical Collection:

John Hope Franklin Oral History (#04007: A-0339)

John Herbert Roper Papers (#04235)

Southern Historical Association (#04030)

Throughout 2015, major libraries in the Triangle including Durham Public Libraries, North Carolina Central University, and Duke University will be honoring the legacy of John Hope Franklin. More information on these events can be found here.

Happy Holidays! A Highlighted Collection for the Holiday Season

Issue 50, December 1984

To entertain your family this holiday season, the SHC wants to highlight a digital collection that may provide you with some historical family fun. The Mini Page Archive houses digital versions of the four page features that appeared in over 500 newspapers weekly. The Mini Page was created as an educational and fun tool for children, which covered topics included in school curricula. Many of them also covered current events in an easy to understand style with activities and recipes meant for children. The archive provides digital access to every issue from 1969-2007.  The creator of The Mini Page, Betty Debnam, did much of the work herself during the nearly forty years documented in the archive.

Each issue of The Mini Page contains brief reporting and fun activities that are an exciting way to explore history with children, or even adult family members, this holiday season. The archive has holiday themed issues for each year, with suggested activities meant to spark engagement. For example, the pages from the issue highlighted here explore different holiday customs from different countries, and provide ideas for ways to get kids talking about cultural differences. Feel free to explore this awesome resource!

Issue 50, December 1984

Happy Halloween! Haunting North Carolina Ghost Stories

1376Preparing for Halloween around the SHC can get a little spooky! Wandering through Wilson Library’s dark and silent stacks may uncover some truly spine-tingling tales. The archive documents many stories that hold cultural importance for the South, including some creepy North Carolina ghost stories.

A journalist, and active University of North Carolina Alum, named John Harden, compiled records of well-known ghost stories from different areas in North Carolina. Out of these grew two books, Devil’s Tramping Ground and Tar Heel Ghosts. The tales tell chilling supernatural events from familiar North Carolina locations. In 1955, WUNC television produced some of these stories as short programs. From the script drafts and illustrations for these shows, I’ll summarize two of the spookiest stories for you, to set the mood for a truly spook-tacular Halloween!

Colonial Apparition

This truly hair rising tale is a sailors’ story of terrifying apparitions seen on a stormy sea near the appropriately named Cape Fear, North Carolina. Legend from the area tells of two Scotsmen who were executed by the British during the American Revolution, between Wilmington and Southport on the Cape Fear River. African-American superstition in the 19th century told of two ghostly apparitions appearing during storms at the same spot.

One evening a well-known Captain, Captain John M. Harper was sailing the haunted stretch of river between Wilmington and Southport. The weather started to turn stormy and cold. In the darkness, some of the men on his boat began recounting times during which these ghosts had been seen. One man suggested that the two ghosts were probably the Scotsmen looking for a ship to carry them home. As the wind and the rain got worse, one man on Captain Harper’s ship saw an apparition clutching the railing, with a beard encrusted in ice. The crewman tried to save him from falling overboard, but the man disappeared. Returning to the captain, he reported what he had seen.  To keep the men calm, Captain Harper began joking about how they should watch out for more ghosts.

As the weather grew worse they began passing the plantation where ghosts had been seen previously. All the crew grew more and more uneasy. A shrill shrieking sounded across the water from the direction of shore.  The screams began getting louder and louder coming from a spot where colonial ships used to anchor. An object began to take shape in the darkness, and an impossibly ancient, seaweed-covered barge appeared before them.

Colonial Apparition001

The Captain ordered the crew to help the barge. But no sooner had they begin to throw a line, than they saw two figures dressed in Scottish garb wrapped in chains on board. The ghostly figures reached toward Captain Harper’s ship. As soon as they tried to pull the rotting barge closer it was swallowed by the angry river waves.

As they continued down the river, they came upon another boat wrecked by the storm. On board were two weakened men who had been shouting for help, revealing the source of the earlier screaming. However, most of the crew remained convinced that some of the unearthly yelling originated from the phantom barge they saw in midst of the terrible storm.

A Haven for Ghosts

A North Carolina man built his dream home near the banks of the Yadkin River upon the foundation of an old tavern. On his first night in the new house he heard what sounded like digging outside. Thinking that the construction men returned to find something, he looked out the window and saw his empty yard. Yet while gazing out into the dark he still heard sounds indicating that there was digging. Concerned, since animals could not be making that noise, he went to look around his property. When he went to turn the bolt on the door– that he carefully locked before bed–he found it already unlocked. Gazing around the property, he saw no evidence of anyone having been near the house. He heard a noise coming from his basement and quickly entered the basement shouting, but no one was there. Determining to investigate more in the morning, he returned to his bedroom. Just as he was about to drift off to sleep he heard the sound of something heavy falling in the room. But when he turned on the light nothing was disturbed.

A haven for ghosts001

As this series of events continued each night with no physical evidence, he began inquiring about it to neighbors and others from the area. They told a tale of a traveler who was rumored to be wealthy. The traveler had stayed in the old tavern after the Civil War on his way home. He was stabbed by a group of thieves looking for his money and buried outside. The thieves, however, were unable to find any money and searched the cellar.  Months later a bag of gold fell from the rafters of the tavern, and many believed this to be the traveler’s money that the thieves were unable to turn up.

Though he was never able to rid himself of the noises in the house, the man began to unearth rumors that every structure built on the old foundation had always burned down, every so often.  A year after the man finished building his house he went on an infrequent trip out of town. When he returned he found that his brand new house had burned down to the original foundation, giving the blackened stones a fresh charcoal coating.

Feel free to check out more of these spooky stories documented in the John Harden Papers, found here in the Southern Historical Collection!

Source for these stories:
From Folders 1879-1897, In the John Harden Papers #4702, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.